5 Ferries – September 2021

September 5, 2021

Almost 2 years ago, we tackled the 5 Ferries, an informal cycle route that involves island hopping on the West Coast of Scotland using 5 ferries with some stunning scenery.  Read below for a summary of our 2021 cycle.

What is the 5 ferries?

A 72.5 mile circular cycle route around the west coast of Scotland. There are various ways of starting, but most cyclists start from the mainland, departing from Wemyss Bay or Ardrossan.

Bike Stages

StageMilesClimbing information (feet)
Wemyss Bay to Ardrossan19.1Mostly flat
Brodick to Lochranza14.9679
Claonig to Tarbert11591
Portavadie to Colintraive19.11,171
Rhubodach to Rothesay8.4Mostly flat
Table 1: Cycle distances

Ferries Routes

Ferry RouteTimeTo note
Ardrossan to Brodick07 00 to 07 55Bikes board first, disembark last. Food and drink available on board.
Lochranza to Claonaig09 30 to 10 00Bikes board last, disembark last
Tarbet to Portavadie11 00 to 11 25Bikes board last, disembark last
Colintraive to Rhubodach13 30 to 13 35Bikes board last, disembark last
Rothesay to Wemyss Bay15 05 to 15 45Bikes board first, disembark last. Food and drink available on board.
Table 2: Ferry times and useful information about boarding

What’s the cycle like?

Stage 1 – Wemyss Bay to Ardrossan 19.1 miles – Mostly flat

Given the temperamental timetable of the Arran ferry and the fact the road between the 2 locations gets very busy on a Saturday afternoon, we chose to leave at 05 00 on Saturday so we could make the first Arran ferry from Ardrossan at 07 00.  Early start, early finish!

Admittedly the 05 00 start is rather extreme with good bike lights, any traffic on the road gave us a wide berth and we reached Ardrossan with plenty of time to pick up the ferry tickets and board at 06 30. Also, such an early start meant that we built up an appetite for breakfast on the Arran ferry.

Stage 2 – Brodick to Lochranza 14.9 miles – 679 ft

Leaving the Arran ferry, there were lots of cyclists and it was a bit of a sprint to get off the ferry. By the time we had reached Lochranza we had identified three other 5 ferry cyclists: Willie and Fraser who were raising money for MacMillan Cancer Support and Ian who was doing the 5 ferries on a mountain bike!

Fig 2: 5 ferries cyclists on 4th September 2021
(left to right: Willie, Fraser, Trisha, Rachel & Ian)

Stage 3 – Claonaig to Tarbert 11 miles 591 ft

This stage is a hilly 11 miles and it is worth a look back at the top of the hill at Claonaig for a beautiful view over Arran.  Tarbert has a number of cafes and a Co-operative if you want to stop and have a coffee or simply refuel ahead of the next ferry trip from Tarbert to Portavadie.

Fig 3: View from Claonaig overlooking the Isle of Arran

Stage 4 – Portavadie to Colintraive 19.1 miles, 1171 ft

Its uphill as soon as you get off the ferry at Portavadie so it’s well worth making sure that you are in a low gear! This stage has the most climbing at over 1,100 feet. However, the views across Kyles of Bute, advertised as Argyll’s secret coastline are stunning.

Stage 5 – Rhubodach to Rothesay 8.4 miles mostly flat

This was our last leg and thankfully was mostly flat, although one small incline did feel like a mountain to our tired legs. Rothesay has wide roads and it is worth arriving a good 20 minutes before the ferry as bikes board first on this route. This is a good chance to bag the best seats and be first in the queue for food if you are feeling hungry.

What has changed post COVID-19 regarding travel?

All of the CalMac ferries are turn up and go apart from the recently beleaguered Arran service which requires booking either in person or by phone. It’s worth checking out the service status on the CalMac website to check the ferries you are planning on taking are running on the day.

You need to buy 2 hopscotch tickets (Hopscotch 4 and 5) to cover the distance at a total of £15 per person.

What food is available?

The Ardrossan to Brodick ferry has a restaurant but a reduced food offer due to COVID-19, so everything is pre-packaged. It makes for less clearing up but my pre-packaged omelette roll was simply not as good as a freshly served breakfast roll! There is also catering available on Wemyss Bay to Rothesay ferry. Given the short length of the other 3 ferries, there is a waiting area but no refreshments, so make sure you bring enough food with you!

Even with challenges of COVID-19, I highly recommend this as a cycle for a day on a fine weather forecast. I am just hoping to take my electric bike next time to help up some of the hills!

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